The first of these projects, on the Use of Acoustic Data Bases and the Study of Language Change (1995-1998), was financially supported by the organization intas of the European Union in Brussels. We reconstructed some of the many recordings in the Pushkinsky Dom and to made them available for further research, which is not only important for historical and cultural reasons, but also for language description and for the study of possible direct evidence of language change. In a second intas project, St. Petersburg Sound Archives on the World Wide Web (1998-2001), some of the sound recordings were placed on the internet and are now available at a special website for further study [DE GRAAF 2004]. In both projects, the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences was both partner and technical supervisor.
For these projects, we first completed the reconstruction of the sound archive material of the Zhirmunsky collection. Zhirmunsky was a famous linguist who worked in St. Petersburg/Leningrad in the early XXth century.
One of his main interests was the study of German dialects spoken in Tjeerd de Graaf Russia. Between 1927 and 1930, he recorded many utterances, in particular songs by German settlers, on waxed cardboard discs, which were transferred to the Vienna Phonogrammarchiv. Within the framework of the intas project, this collection has been copied onto tape and part of the material is now stored in a special database. A special study covered the language of the Siberian Mennonites [DE GRAAF 2005].
For our third intas Project, on The construction of a full-text database on Balto-Finnic languages and Russian dialects in Northwest-Russia (2000-2003), we inventoried the Finno-Ugric minority languages in the vicinity of St. Petersburg and the southern and middle parts of Karelia.
They represent a specific linguistic picture of an area where endangered languages such as Vepsian, Ingrian, Votic, Ingrian-Finnish and Karelian and various types of Russian archaic dialects are spoken in close proximity to this day.
The St. Petersburg sound archives also contain important data on Yiddish, the language of the Jews in Eastern Europe, which at the beginning of this century was spoken by millions of speakers in the Russian empire.
In the archives we found an unpublished manuscript, The Ballad in Jewish Folklore, which corresponded to Yiddish material on wax cylinders. Together with specialists in St.Petersburg, we further explored the acoustic data in the sound archives and prepared the edition of the book.
This took place as part of the project Voices from the Shtetl, the Past and Present of the Yiddish Language in Russia (1998-2001), for which we obtained financial support from the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research nwo [DE GRAAF, KLEINER AND SVETOZAROVA 2004].
Modern fieldwork and reconstructed data from sound archives provide important information for the preparation of language descriptions, grammars, dictionaries and edited collections of oral and written literature. During fieldwork expeditions to Northern Yakutia, the Altai Region and Sakhalin, we studied the processes of language shift and language death of the aboriginal populations of Russia, collecting much interesting data.
Tjeerd de Graaf THE LANGUAGES OF SAKHALIN As mentioned above, our first international expedition in 1990 took place to the island of Sakhalin, where we were looking for the Ainu, Nivkh and Uilta people and making recordings of their languages.
The island of Sakhalin belongs to the Sakhalin area (Sakhalinskaya Oblast’), one of the most eastern territorial units of the Russian Federation, 87,square kilometres large and only 980 km long from North to South. The Kurile Islands, a chain of 1200 km length with 36 islands, are also part of this territory. The original population of Sakhalin consisted of some Paleo-Siberian and Tungusic tribes, in particular the Nivkh (Gilyak) and Uilta (Orok) in the North and Center, and the Ainu in the South. Their numbers were rather small and during the colonization process by the Russians from the North and by the Japanese from the South, they were quickly numerically dominated by these stronger nationalities. Due to their isolated life far from the political centre, they were able to maintain their native language and culture for a long time, but since the beginning of the XXth century the assimilation process has gradually become stronger.
In the summer of 1990, I took part in the first international field work expedition to Sakhalin, aiming to investigate the linguistic and ethnographic situation of the smaller nationalities on the island. The idea was to look for the remnants of the Ainu population and for the other small minority groups, in particular Nivkh (Gilyak) and Uilta (Orok).
Unfortunately, during our expedition no Ainu people were found, and the only person representing the Sakhalin Ainu language and culture was probably the informant we met on Hokkaido, Asai Take san [DE GRAAF 1992], [MURASAKI 2001].
Ainu is the only small endangered indigenous language of Japan, whereas Nivkh is a representative of the many minor languages of Russia. From the available demographic data, we concluded that in 1989 the aboriginal peoples of the North formed a very small minority within the total population of Sakhalin : for the Nivkh ethnic group, which is the largest group, the percentage was only 0.3 % [DE GRAAF 1992].
Among the small nationalities in the Russian Federation, the minority peoples of the North play a special role. There are nearly thirty different groups, all living in the northern parts of the country bordering the Arctic Ocean from Scandinavia to the Bering Sea and the Pacific. The Peoples of Tjeerd de Graaf the North were the last to be put under effective Soviet rule. In the early thirties the Soviet regime tried to extend its grip on these peoples and to encourage Russian culture and literacy among them. A “Committee for the Assistence and Protection of the Small Peoples of the North” was founded in 1923 and a writing system developed for many of the minority languages. Initially the Latin alphabet was used, but in the later thirties this was changed to Cyrillic.
The Nivkh language is classified as Paleo-Siberian and spoken by tribes inhabiting the lower reaches of the Amur River in the Far East of the Asian continent and the northern and central parts of Sakhalin [GRUZDEVA 1998]. One of its linguistic complications is the fact that the language has at least two dialects : Amur and Sakhalin. Both groups are rather small : all together about 4400 people have the Nivkh nationality, and less than 15 % of them speak Nivkh. A very small group speaks the southern Poronaisk dialect, and for this dialect it is very difficult to find speakers. After the war, several of them emigrated from their homeland in Southern-Sakhalin to Japan, where Japanese and other non-Soviet linguists studied their language.
The first all-Russian census was organised during the czarist regime in 1897. The total number of people on Sakhalin, belonging to the Nivkh ethnic group, was given as 1969. All identified Nivkh as their mother tongue and most were probably monolingual. In the census in 1926, the first organised by the Soviet Union, the total number of Nivkh people was lower, due to the fact that the inhabitants of the Japanese southern part of Sakhalin were not counted. Practically all still identified Nivkh as their mother tongue. Since then, however, a decrease in the percentage of Nivkh speakers has been observed even if the number of Nivkh on Sakhalin has remained stable (about 2000). In 1989, over 80 % of Nivkh people no longer spoke Nivkh, and identified Russian as their first language.
The transition of the Sakhalin Nivkh to Russian can be explained in a number of ways. One of the most important factors was the growing contact of the Nivkh population with the other inhabitants on the island, many of them Russian speakers from the motherland who came to the island to exploit its natural resources (oil, coal, wood, fish, caviar). Before then, the Nivkh people lived as fishermen and hunters in their isolated villages, but they increasingly came into contact with the immigrants, Tjeerd de Graaf who began an active policy of educating and influencing the aboriginal inhabitants of the eastern parts of the Russian Federation.
Recently, a development is taking place in favour of the native languages and cultures of the small minorities in the Russian Federation, in particular the Nivkh [DE GRAAF, SHIRAISHI 2004]. Attempts are being made to revive the Nivkh language, for example by introducing language classes in several schools in Nivkh. In 1980, the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation initiated a program for primary and secondary schools, for which textbooks and dictionaries were printed in Nivkh. Special instruction was given to teachers of Nivkh descent about the education of Nivkh children in their own language. This teaching program was introduced in the special boarding schools for children from the ethnic minorities in Nogliki, Chir-Unvd and in Nekrasovka. We were able to visit these schools and to learn about the teaching methods for Nivkh used in the primary education.
During our fieldwork expeditions on Sakhalin, important linguistic material was collected on the languages of the minority groups. Most subjects were elderly people with a strong motivation to use their language, for example as members of a folkloric group. Practically all young people we met had no active knowledge of the language, and communicated only in Russian with their parents. During interviews with Nivkh informants, they were very positive about the value of keeping and cultivating their own culture and expressed a desire to participate as members of the Russian Federation’s group of nations. They agreed that Russian language and culture play a very important role in their lives, but expressed wanting to see the survival of their native language and culture stimulated by all possible means.
VOICES FROM TUNDRA AND TAIGA Important activities related to linguistic databases in St. Petersburg concern the recordings of Russian dialects and minority languages in the Russian Federation, such as Nivkh, Tungus, Yakut and others [DE GRAAF 2004]. One of our aims is to use these recordings to construct a phonetic database of the languages of Russia, which will have many scientific, cultural and technical applications. Within the framework of the research program Voices from Tundra and Taiga, which began in 2002, we combined Tjeerd de Graaf the data from old sound recordings with the results of modern fieldwork to give a full description of the languages and cultures of ethnic groups in Russia. The endangered Arctic languages and cultures of the Russian Federation must be described rapidly before they become extinct. Our earlier work on reconstruction technology for old sound recordings found in archives in St. Petersburg has made it possible to compare languages still spoken in the proposed research area with the same languages as they were spoken more than half a century ago, which provides a fortunate start for these projects. The sound recordings in the St. Petersburg archives consist of spoken language, folksongs, fairy tales, and so forth, in Siberian languages among others [BURYKIN ET AL. 2005], [DE GRAAF 2004A].
Tjeerd de Graaf and Yakutia will be complemented by new fieldwork results. The data obtained will be added to the existing archive material in St. Petersburg and made partly available on the internet and cd-rom.
This research project and the related documentation are carried out in close cooperation with scholars in local centres such as Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk who participate in archiving sound recordings and fieldwork expeditions.
Specialists from St. Petersburg and the Netherlands visit them to set up new centres for the study and teaching of local languages and related subjects. For this purpose, we organised a special seminar for Nivkh teachers in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in October 2003.
Spontaneous speech and the reading of prepared texts is collected for (ethno)linguistic as well as for anthropological, folkloristic and ethnomusicological analysis. These data are videorecorded and analysed and can illustrate the art of storytelling and language use. The above-described texts will be published in scientific journals and books with audiovisual illustrations on cd-rom and/or on the internet. The materials will thus become available for further analysis to scholars working in the field of phonetics, linguistics, anthropology, history, ethno-musicology and folklore.
Using a phrase book for school children of Nivkh [TAKSAMI ET AL. 1982], we recorded a native speaker during our fieldwork trip in 1990. The texts with the illustrations of the book are now shown on the Internet together with acoustic data. The separate phonemes are supplied on a special table ; by selecting one of them the student can listen to various speech sounds. This has as the advantage that students will be able to learn the distinction between various separate phonemes (e.g. four k-sounds) of Nivkh, which are variants (allophones) of one phoneme in Russian. One of our research students and his Nivkh colleague published a series of books with Nivkh stories, songs and conversation in which for the first time the corresponding texts are recorded on a cd. The series, Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language I - III [SHIRAISHI, LOK 2002, 2003, 2004] appeared as part of the Japanese program on Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim (elpr) and the research program Voices from Tundra and Taiga. This unique material is used not only by linguists, but also by the language community itself, where it can be used for teaching purposes.
In 2006, Hidetoshi Shiraishi finished a dissertation on this topic entitled Tjeerd de Graaf Aspects of Nivkh Phonology, which he defended in September 2006 at Groningen University [SHIRAISHI 2006].
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